This Sunday, March 18, 2013, Rowland Scherman (PC/HQ 1961-63), the focus of the film Eye on the Sixties, will be featured, with the film’s producer and director Chris Szwedo, at a Forum at the JFK Library that will be shown live on C-Span. An 8-minute clip of “The March” from the film will also be aired. The Forum at the Kennedy Library is from 1-5 on Sunday, August 18, 2013. Check it out!
Archives for Peace Corps history
[This story came to me from Sarah Seybold (aka Sally O'Connell (Turkey 1963-65)]
An orange hard cover book with Sarge’s picture sits on my mother’s coffee table. It’s been there since 1965. Sargent Shriver: A Candid Portrait by Robert Liston has a bookmark on page 120. That’s the black and white photo section which features Sarge on a raft in North Borneo, Sarge sharing bread in an Iranian bakery, Sarge visiting with the Shah of Iran, and Sarge at my Peace Corps site in a hospital in eastern Turkey.
I am dressed in white, with starched cap, pale hose and polished nurse’s shoes. Sarge is tall and athletic looking, with cropped hair and a ruddy face. He wears slacks and a bulky ribbed cardigan frayed around a small hole on the left shoulder. Scuffed boots warm his feet. In the background, temperature charts hang over white metal cribs in a Turkish pediatric ward. Veiled mothers wearing hospital-issued gowns sit at bedsides. They are on hand around the clock to comfort and feed their sick little ones. Like mannequins these village women sit and stare at us. I make a plea for Sarge’s help.
In my right hand I hold a glass thermometer. My left hand extends to explain that our school of nursing is in urgent need of teaching supplies. He listens earnestly and promises a modest budget.
And then Sarge is off to the orphanage and high school, the other sites where PC volunteers work in this central Anatolian railroad town of 50,000.
His departure reminds me to get on to the afternoon shopping. My roommates and I must prepare to serve tomorrow’s breakfast to Sarge, his entourage and eight Peace Corps volunteers. Bundled in winter wear and snow boots and carrying several string bags, I head for the open market, wondering how to explain to the poultry vendor my need for fifty eggs. But he asks no questions and gleefully wraps up the thirty in his inventory, takes my money and sends me in the direction of his brother’s stall.
The breakfast is hearty, a full platter of scrambled eggs layered with herbed cheese garnished with home fried potatoes. We hug our steamy mugs filled with spiced Turkish tea. When dishes are cleared away, Sarge calls the eight Volunteers together. We pull up chairs in a circle. Only two months have passed since our early November 1963 arrival in Turkey, and so much has changed. When we ask Sarge to describe how the Kennedy family, the Peace Corps staff and Americans in general responded to the assassination he takes a deep breath as if to steady himself. Tales of November 22 and its aftermath pour out. We hang onto his every word.
We feel compelled to tell him where we were when we heard the news. Two
Turkish nurses had run into our dormitory holding a portable radio. They
were sobbing and screaming, “Baskinin Kennedy Olmis!” We didn’t understand,
our Turkish language was so new and our vocabulary so limited. Their sobs
and screams continued until finally we knew the truth. Grief and loss
flooded Ankara. Flags flew at half mast as sober and silent people walked
the streets. The American Embassy opened its doors for ceremony and
Suddenly his time had run out. Sarge’s plane was scheduled to leave
within the hour. We said our goodbyes. His departing words gave comfort,
inspiration and a sense of mission. “You are the ones who must carry the
Mad Man Jules Pagano
Jules Pagano was not a Mad Man, though he could have played one on the t.v. show. Yes, he smoked. God, they all smoked! And drank! And partied! Jules was more of a character actor than a Leading Man at the early Peace Corps and spent his years there as Chief of the Division of Professional and Technical Affairs. (Yes, Virginia, they did have stupid titles like that even in the ’60s.)
Jules had a breezy, laid-back, amusing, and charming persona. He was like great poetry: there was more than one level of meaning to Jules. And like a good union organizer (which he had been) he held his cards close to his chest. If anyone could draw to an inside straight, it was Jules Pagano.
I knew Jules best for a short period in the spring of 1965 when he organized the unions segment for the first Conference of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers held at the State Department. I linked up with him as my father had spent nearly thirty years working in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana. Union workers was my turf. And Jules and I were a natural fit.
I’m not sure how or why Jules got to the Peace Corps. He was always the ‘odd man’ out, it seems, sitting at the back of the room, in one of those chairs up against the wall, making funny, off-handed comments about the other Mad Men at the conference table. He kept all of us (RPCVs) in stitches the way he pierced the bloated egos of the Mad Men who clustered like dogs in heat around Shriver.
The thing about Jules was that he never attempted to impress us, not that the RPCVs were easily impressed, filled as we were with our own bloated self-importance for having been there, the first PCVs back from the Third World, Kennedy’s Original Kids. God, we, too, were insufferable.
Jules was amused by us all. He had been there, done that, before any of us had ever heard about the plight of the underdeveloped world.
Coming out of WWII, Jules was the first veteran to enroll in the Great Books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis. He waited tables in Annapolis and ran a mimeograph machine to keep alive, and finished college in 3 ½ years by going to school through the summer months.
It was at St. John’s College that he became interested in adult education and decided that he could follow his passion in the labor movement.
So he went to work in 1948 for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. While working in Virginia, he also got involved with the telephone workers and helped them organize into the Communications Workers of America.
Working in Richmond, he was the CWA’s education director, public relations director, research director and director of legislation. And as he said, he also directed people to the public bathrooms. All of this ‘directing’ got the attention of the national organization of CWA, and he was brought to D.C. to become the union’s first education director.
Jules believed in adult education, and the CWA was a natural for him. He established eleven training centers at universities throughout the nation and began sending local officials through training program, everyone from shop stewards to presidents.
By 1955, he was on a Fulbright grant to study problems of labor education in Britain and finished his year by writing a report for the Fulbright Committee on adult education in the UK. Next, he went to Central and South America for the CWA to develop international training program, bringing representatives from 16 Latin American countries to Washington and putting them through a three-month program.
It was then that he found the Peace Corps, or the Peace Corps found him, and he was “on board” as they use to say in the early days, by December, 1961.
The truth is I never knew exactly what Jules Pagano did at the Peace Corps. True, he was always around, slipping smoothly in and out of other people’s offices, always looking dapper, always with time to chat, time to tell another story. For whatever the incident or occasion, he always had a story that was a bank shot off an event that was about to happen.
He seemed to us RPCVs not to have any authority at all at the agency. He wasn’t one of those Mad Men pushing themselves forward to be at the front of the room, but whenever there was a chance meeting of Shriver and Jules in the hallways of the old Maiatico Building at 806 Connecticut Avenue, Shriver would stop his customary charging about to talk to Jules. Shriver, we could see, genuinely liked the guy.
Years later, when I ran into Pagano in Washington, D.C., long after our time in the Peace Corps, Jules was wearing in his lapel one of those small buttons Shriver gave to those of us who were in the Peace Corps during his five years at the agency.
Of all the organizations that Jules had worked with and devoted his life to, from the CWA to the AFL-CIO, from the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to the Fulbright Scholars, it was Shriver’s pin from his Peace Corps years that he was wearing.
I was going to ask him why, but I know why. He loved the Peace Corps.
I just learned that Dr. Jules O. Pagano passed away at his home Sunday, July 14 in Jamesville, New York.He was two days shy of his 88th birthday.
His professional career spanned more than a half-century. After working with the Peace Corps, and after the passage of the Higher Education Act in 1965, Pagano was named the first Director of Adult Education Division at the US Office of Education. His responsibilities included administering Title One of the Higher Education Act of 1965, the Adult Education Act of 1966, and the Civil Defense Adult Education Program.
Leaving the government, Pagano began a long career in higher education. He served as Dean and Associate Vice President of Florida International University. In 1977, he was selected as President of the Massachusetts Board of Regional Community Colleges where he appointed the first black and first woman community college President in the state. In 1979, Dr. Pagano was recruited by Bard College in New York to serve as Vice President and Provost of Simmons Rock. He believed that the student - the learner - is at the heart of the education process and that learning to learn is more important than learning the facts.
In 1981, Pagano returned to government when Gov. Hugh Carey of NY appointed him Chair of the NYS Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Following his work in New York, Jules traveled to California where he served as President of Saybrook Institute, a graduate school and research center. He then returned after a short retirement to Washington, DC where he accepted a position as Vice President of the American Income Life Insurance Company and Executive Director of AIL’s Labor Advisory Board.
Jules was born on July 16, 1925 in Newfield, New Jersey. He attended St. John’s College in Annapolis. He studied at the University of London as a Senior Fulbright scholar in 1955. He later served as Director of the St. John’s College Alumni Board from 1984 to 1988.
His family held a private memorial service in Syracuse and will be holding a public memorial service on September 16 in Washington DC. The family has asked that contributions be made in his name to the Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music or to the CNY Food Bank. For a guest book, please visit: www.SCHEPPFAMILY.com
Being published this coming October is Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House by historian Robert Dallek, author of the previous Kennedy book, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 and Nixon and Kissinger, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, among other books. This new book offers, according to the press release, “a penetrating look at the inner circle or brain trust that defined the Kennedy administration.”
As we know, the Peace Corps in 1960 was Kennedy’s experiment in international development that others called a wacky and dangerous idea. The Daughters of the American Revolution warned of a “yearly drain” of “brains and brawn…for the benefit of backward, underdeveloped countries.” Former President Eisenhower declared it a “juvenile experiment,” and Richard Nixon said it was another form of “draft evasion.”
Not everyone among Kennedy’s ‘best and the brightest’ were keen on the Peace Corps idea. Kennedy’s staff had been thinking of a small, low-cost addendum to the overall foreign assistance program, as Ted Sorensen, the President’s special counsel, told Shriver. Shriver had in mind a “large, independent new government agency which could be in the field within a few months.” Another staff against Shriver’s idea of an independent agency was Ralph Dungan, who Kennedy had made head of a task force to overseas assistance programs.
But Shriver, with the help of the Vice President and the hard work of Bill Moyers, got his way. The following year, Time magazine declared in a cover story that the Peace Corps was “the greatest single success the Kennedy administration had produced.”
In Dallek’s book of nearly 500 pages, the Peace Corps gets a page, mostly about picking Shriver to be the first director, and saying that Kennedy viewed the agency as making a difference not only in helping the less advantaged but also in advancing the national interest. (Dallek actually gives more attention to Mimi Beardsley Alford, the nineteen-year-old intern who had an eighteen month affair with Kennedy in the summer of ‘62.)
Dallek writes, “Kennedy hoped the Peace Corps could become a model for how his administration would perform: a collaborative effort of the best minds and most well intentioned to create an innovation program serving both the world and the nation. By 1963, within two years of its founding, the Corps had enrolled 7,300 volunteers serving in forty-four countries.”
That’s it for the Peace Corps. The author moves onto The Alliance for Progress and then Cuba. In reviewing an advance, uncorrected proof of the book, I can’t find another mention of Shriver or the Peace Corps.
Interestingly, Harris Wofford, who with Shriver, lead the Mayflower Hotel Gang in setting up the agency in the winter months of 1961, gets more print from Dallek as the author writes about Kennedy and civil rights.
Dallek writes that Kennedy, as he prepared to launch his administration, was assigned some aides to develop a civil rights agenda. “The key figure in assembling personnel and a program for the fight ahead was Harris Wofford.” Dallek mentions how Wofford had persuaded Kennedy to call Coretta Scott King and help arrange the release of her husband from the Reidsville, Georgia state prison, where he had been sent for having an expired driver’s license, and details over several pages all of the other early civil rights steps taken by Kennedy, but he mentions only Wofford’s involvement with the framing of the new Peace Corps in passing when a small group of university presidents quizzed Kennedy about who was going to be appointed special assistant on civil rights. Kennedy said Wofford and the academics replied that he (Wofford) was working on establishing the Peace Corps.
Kennedy replied, “that’s only temporary.”
Kennedy moved slowly on civil rights in ‘61 and by March of ‘62, Wofford wrote Kennedy that he wanted to go full time with the Peace Corps and by August of ‘62 Wofford was on a plane with his family to Ethiopia as the first Peace Corps Director to Ethiopia, and as the Peace Corps’ Special Representative in Africa. Wofford would spend the next five years with the agency, returning to Washington in the summer of ‘64 to become an Associate Director. So much for a temporary job at the Peace Corps.
In 1966 Wofford would leave the agency to become the first president of the new State University of New York Old Westbury College on Long Island, but, as we know, he is still linked to the Peace Corps in many ways and through many connections.
My guess is that Dallek, as a historican and not a journalist, did a lot of reading, and not much interviewing of the members of the Kennedy Court, in writing this book. Well, in due course, with the publications of all the memoirs and histories now being written by RPCVs, our days in the sunlight will come, and we will tell the world the real story of the Peace Corps, which is, as we all well know, what PCVs have been doing on their own since the fall of ‘61.
It started as a newsletter in November 1961. It was edited by three women: Betty Harris, Sally Bowles, and ET PCV Margery Michelmore who had famously put the Peace Corps on the front pages of every newspaper in the U.S. with her postcard written from the University College at Ibadan while she was still in training for Nigeria.
The Volunteer newsletter quickly became a monthly that went to all PCVs, and as a magazine it was edited by Kellogg Smith for two years.
Smith had come to the Peace Corps in September, 1962, after serving with the Democratic National Committee. He was for six years a copy editor with the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin, and before that spent seven years on the desk of the Cleveland Press. He also co-authored two textbooks on English grammar, and was a graduate of Williams College. At the Peace Corps, in December of ‘64 he went to India on the Peace Corps staff.
Taking over at the editor of The Volunteer was Deane Wylie, who had been a PCV with his wife with the first group to the Philippines. He had come home and joined the Peace Corps staff when the agency was still in the Maiatico Building. This was September, 1963, and he started as the assistant editor of the magazine.
Before the Peace Corps, Wylie was a reporter for the Longview (Wash) Daily News, having graduated from Berkeley with a degree in journalism.
Taking Wylie’s place as assistant editor was John English from Tulsa. John had been a PCV in Sabah from 1962-64, and before the Peace Corps, he had been a news editor for the weekly Southside Times in Tulsa. His journalism degree was from the University of Tulsa.
The editorial assistant was Sara Gay Beacham from La Jolla, California, who had been a PCV in the Philippines. She had degree in English from the University of Southern California.
With that staff, The Volunteer, for the first time, was being edited entirely by RPCVs.
In the November 1962 Editorial, Deane Wylie would write that he recognized the problem of the publication for many PCVs. That problem was ‘too many success stories’ and tales of ’super-Volunteer.’ He was also aware that the Peace Corps was highly regarded almost everywhere, and he noted it was ranked in public esteem, “somewhere between John Glenn and Santa Claus.”
That view of the magazine would change said Deane.
I am not sure it did. The Volunteer was a journal of information about the Peace Corps for Peace Corps Volunteers, but it was read by parents, college and university students, newspapermen, library visitors, member of Congress, staffs of foreign embassies; overseas by host-country governments, volunteers of other countries, American diplomatic missions. Read by just about everyone who wasn’t a PCV.
I would read The Volunteer in Ethiopia, read the accounts of what other PCVs were doing and think: I’m a failure and pick up Time or Newsweek to cheer myself up.
Since those glory years of that first Peace Corps publication varies other attempts have been generated by Peace Corps HQ to tell the continuing story of the agency. Now, I know, the Peace Corps pays the NPCA to mail their publication around the world. They doesn’t bother to tell PCVs (or anyone else) what is happening with the Peace Corps.
But who needs a publication when PCVs have The New York Times available on-line and Mom back home is just a phone call away.
Well, I do.
The staff orientation instruction booklet for Charlotte Amalie, Virgin Islands, back in 1968 when the Peace Corps Training was done on St. Croix and St. Thomas, has an interesting piece of instruction for incoming training staff.
One paragraph in the 9-page orientation pamphlet, which is mimeographed and stapled together, reads:
LIVING ACCOMMODATIONS AT THE VITC
The living accommodations at the VITC are not luxurious by any standards.
Housing for married couples is not available unless specifically stated in writing by the Director of the VITC. Housing for single staff members is generally shared quarters. A single room provided with two beds, two chairs, one dresser, one standing wardrobe rack. Linen is distributed once weekly. Toilet and shower facilities are located in a separate building. There is no hot water at the St. Croix Camp and no flush toilets. The St. Thomas Camp is equipped with flush toilets, and in some cases hot water. Meals are served in communal dining hall. Each person is responsible for washing his own utensils.
Those were the days!
[A couple weeks ago I posted what Jon Ebeling (Ethiopia 1962-64) had to say about Shriver visiting his town of Debra Marcus, and then seeing Shriver a few years later at the State Department in Washington. Here's Shriver again talking about that visit to Debra Marcus, and quoting from a letter written by another PCV in that town, Dick Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64).
Sargent Shriver gave the one hundred Sixty-fifth Commencement of Georgetown University in early June of 1964. He talked, of course, about the Peace Corps, telling the graduates and their families that he had been at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and was awarded an honorary degree to honor the Peace Corps and the 265 Volunteers serving in Thailand.
Three of those Volunteers, he said, graduated from Georgetown. Then he went onto talk about eight Volunteers who had trained at Georgetown for the Peace Corps in the summer of '62.]
Shriver began the Commencement Address with….
Let me tell you about eight other Volunteers–eight of the first 300 Volunteers for Ethiopia who took their Peace Corps training here at Georgetown. I last saw them in the little provincial town of Debra Marcos, near the Blue Nile, in October 1962. We sent men only to that post because it was considered the most difficult, most isolated one in Ethiopia. I will never forget the rocky ride from the strip of grass on which we landed to their school–the cobblestones on the main street were put in with the smooth side down and the pointed, spike side up. I wondered how these eight men, thrown together like that, without any American women around, would get along.
Here is what one of them, Dick Lipez, wrote recently. “Through some unimaginable fluke we got along. We were not only friends, but we stimulated one another intellectually in a way that perhaps no eight people in the same house ever have. Last year, I did more reading and more talking about what I had read than during any three years of college. We talked politics endlessly, we talked about history, travel, sports, women, literature.” The liberals, he said, became more conservative and the conservatives more liberal. ‘If anyone in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania,” Dick wrote about his hometown, “discovered four or five men sitting around a Coleman lantern in the middle of the night reading and talking about poetry, the scandal would shake the town from the first island bridge to Crow’s Diner!’
Those eight men who went from this Georgetown campus to Debre Marcos, Ethiopia, are now coming home. Dick Lipez in his letter home tried to explain why they were coming home with a new sense of responsibility. “The Peace Corps life tempers one by its sheer and irresistible intensity,” he says. They look forward to coming home, but ‘missing’ he says, will be ‘the adventure, the thrill that none of us will ever be able to live again with such intensity, such freedom. We had great responsibilities–to our students, to one another, to ourselves–and in meeting these responsibilities we found a kind of freedom greater than any we could have imagined.”
“Eye on the Sixties: The Iconic Photography of Rowland Scherman”
Guests: Rowland Scherman and Edith Lee Payne
Date: Sunday, August 25, 2013 at 2:30 PM
Location: Documentary Theater, Washington, D.C. Newseum
Note: A Q&A with Scherman and Payne will follow the program.
The Newseum presents a special screening of the new documentary “Eye on the Sixties: The Iconic Photography of Rowland Scherman.”
The film is an intimate portrait of Scherman and documents his work during the 1960s, one of the country’s most transformational eras.
Among his many assignments, Scherman was the primary photographer of the 1963 March on Washington, which he shot for the United States Information Agency. The Newseum screening takes place just three days before the 50th anniversary of the march.
One of Scherman’s most iconic photographs from the march is of 11-year-old Edith Lee Payne. Payne will be part of a panel discussion following the film to talk about her memories of the photograph and that historic day. Also appearing on the panel is the film’s producer, Chris Szwedo.
Scherman was Life magazine’s special assignment photographer, a personal photographer of President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign, and Life’s special photographer for Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1968.
The film is an intimate portrait of Scherman and documents his work during the 1960s, one of the country’s most transformational eras. Among his many assignments, Scherman was the primary photographer of the 1963 March on Washington, which he shot for the United States Information Agency. The Newseum screening takes place just three days before the 50th anniversary of the march. One of Scherman’s most iconic photographs from the march is of 11-year-old Edith Lee Payne. Payne will be part of a panel discussion following the film to talk about her memories of the photograph and that historic day. Also appearing on the panel is the film’s producer, Chris Szwedo. Scherman was Life magazine’s special assignment photographer, a personal photographer of President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign, and Life’s special photographer for Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1968.
Charlene Duline (Peru 1962-64) had just moved to Paris in 1969 and Christmas was approaching when she read in the newspapers about a Christmas Eve Mass that the new Ambassador was having in the ancient Sainte Chappelle Church. Well, why don’t I let Charlene tell her story of meeting up with Sarge once again, this time in Paris.
The Ambassador Will Vouch For Me
It was 1969 and Christmas was approaching. I was settling into life in Paris, France after moving there two months previously. I saw an article in the newspaper about a Christmas Eve Mass Sargent Shriver, U.S. Ambassador to France, was having in the tiny, ancient Sainte Chappelle church and inviting diplomats, friends and family. It was going to be an intimate and elegant affair, and I decided that I would like to attend. A friend who was a volunteer in Morocco was coming to spend Christmas with me, and I knew she too would be thrilled to attend. I immediately wrote Ambassador Shriver telling him that we were RPCVs and we would certainly enjoy attending his Christmas Eve Mass.
A few days later as I returned from shopping, the concierge greeted me at the door with an envelope. She said, “Your ambassador’s chauffeur brought this for you.” I grinned, grabbed the envelope and flew up to my apartment. I ripped open the envelope and there nestled inside was an elegant invitation inviting Janet Ghattas and Charlene Duline to Ambassador and Mrs. Shriver’s Christmas Eve Mass. I swooned.
On Christmas Eve Sainte Chappelle glowed like a jewel as it basked in candlelight. Small heaters scattered throughout the church kept the worshippers warm. The Mass was simple, but touching and beautiful. Famed opera star Roberta Peters sang. Afterwards there was a receiving line to greet the Shriver family. Janet and I couldn’t decide what to say. As Shriver shook my hand I blurted out that we were RPCVs in Peru and Morocco. He grabbed Janet’s hand and shouted to his wife who stood right next to him, “Eunice! Eunice! Here are some Peace Corps Volunteers!” Eunice took it in stride saying, “Oh, Peace Corps volunteers are everywhere.” Sarge stopped the receiving line to chat with us. How like him! It was an incredible welcome to Paris.
A few days later I went to the embassy to cash a check. I was told somebody at the embassy had to vouch for me before I could cash a personal check. I almost said I didn’t know anybody at the embassy, but then I remembered that I did know somebody. I said, “Ambassador Shriver will vouch for me.” And indeed he did. Thereafter, whenever I went to the embassy to cash a check, the cashier called the ambassador’s office and I was always vouched for. Sarge Shriver believes in, and loves his volunteers!
Jon Ebeling (Ethiopia 1962-64) spent five years with the Peace Corps as a PCV and APCD in Ethiopia. Upon returning he entered the Ph.D. program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International where he earned his Ph.D. in Economic and Social Development. As he graduated from the University, he came down with a severe case of juvenile diabetes and could not return to Africa.
He taught statistics and public finance in the Department of Political Science at CSU, Chico for 32 years while directing over 200 master’s degree thesis until his retirement. He has done extensive consulting with governments and private industry in the area. He specializes in revenue forecasting, evaluation research, and public opinion research. He has taught off and on in the Economics Department as needed since the early 1970’s. Jon and his wife, Frederica Shockley, Chair of the Economics Department now have a consulting business. Here is Jon’s story of meeting Sarge in a remote southern town in Ethiopia where he taught his first year as a PCV.]
“During the Cuban missile crisis in October of 1962, I was struggling to explain events to my inquisitive 11th grade class in Debre Markos when I looked up to see Harris Wofford’s face in a hole in the door where the window used to be. I was startled and went to the door of the classroom and there was Wofford, Shriver, a pilot, and a news man from the SF Chronicle. Wofford was our CD Ethiopia at the time and Shriver, of course, was then the Director.
‘Here is someone who can tell you all bout the Cuban missile crisis!’ I said, turning to my students as I invited the men into the classroom at Negus Tekle Haimanot School. ‘Sargent Shriver can speak more authoritatively than I since he is related to President Kennedy.’ Shriver spoke to the students and won them over with his New England accent, his quick wit, and his wonderful smile. He won me over as well.
After about a half an hour, we let the students out of their classes and all the PCVs went with Shriver and Wofford in our house. Those days we had a kerosene driven refrigerator with cold beer in it and we spent the afternoon sitting around our tukul house talked about how we could make the Peace Corps more effective in our town and focused on how we might relate better to the Ethiopian society.
Shriver told us to go to the bars in town and talk with the local Ethiopians. Now there were eight guys assigned to that town and we all thought Shriver’s suggestion was wonderful advice. After exhausting our beer supply Shriver, Wofford, and the pilot headed out for the grassy airstrip to fly back to Addis, leaving us all in the after glow of his surprise visit from Washington.
Years later, I was attending U.C.L.A. graduate school in African History and went to Washington, D.C. for a meeting of RPCVs. It was the first reunion of RPCVs and several thousand turned up at the capital. The weekend opened with a fancy reception for all the RPCVs at the State Department, and I remember how impressed I was walking into a beautiful stately reception room in Foggy Bottom and spotting Shriver standing the middle of a crowd. I walked over and worked my way through the press of people surrounding him, hanging on everyone of his words, and then Shriver, in full sentence, spotted me, stopped talking and reached out to shake my hand and asked me, as if it had only been yesterday, “Hello Jon! How’s Debre Markos?”
Is there any wonder why those of us who served under Sarge don’t idealize the man?
About John Coyne Babbles
John Coyne Babbles is a collection of comments, opinions, musings, and outrages from this RPCV who served with the first group (1962-64) in Ethiopia.
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